Using the combined power of Play and Open to make learning immersive at the elementary level

Value of ‘Play’ in learning

In his approximation of Huizinga’s work, Hector Rodriguez had shed light on two aspects of education where ‘play’ can be of use. It could either serve as a vehicle to facilitate the dispersion of education — when the teacher adopts a playful method of engaging the students while teaching, or, the content itself could translate into an act of playing, hence illuminating the primary nature of the subject itself.

Any artifact or content alone is of no relevance to a child unless they could relate it with their environment and apply their skills to it and come up with new ideas. Play allows kids to act on a given content and build on it. When a child interacts with a content that leaves enough room for them to contribute to, they make their own unique additions to that content. This in return also helps the educator to further evolve the learning process. This prepares them to deal with the unknown as they grow up. Besides knowledge absorption, learning and preparing for future challenges, play is also helping kids in the war zones and refugee camps deal with traumatic events and experiences and retain their psychological, emotional and cognitive well being.

The combined value of play and open

In a parallel, ‘Openness’ has been creating massive ripples in the world of tech and content licensing. The education sector has not gone untouched by the influence of Openness, and a very noteworthy example to call out as an example is the OER project. OER Commons, a platform by the Creative Commons, allows educators from around the world to contribute openly-licensed educational toolkits and make it publically accessible (conditions attached).

In their book, Rules of Play, the authors Salen and Zimmerman draw parallels from ‘Open Source’ software to explain the evolutionary nature of open game systems. They emphasize how this approach with game design ends up making the process more non-hierarchical, openly accessible, non-guided and emergent.

The ‘Open’ approach has the potential to set new quality and creative benchmark for the content of educational games, besides breaking the silos around educators and helping them connect better through collaborative, real-time and open repositories like GitHub and GitLab, and innovate together. The connected network of educators could result in a more consistent and richer teaching process across geographies.

The content created out of this process could leveraged the collective creative aptitude of instructors and educators from varied cultures and backgrounds, making it high in quality for students to enjoy learning with. The consistency in the teaching process through communication within the instructors’ network would also take away the stress from students of dealing with a new teaching process they face when they start a new class each time.

Designing an open educational game

The process of designing a game is fundamentally putting a layer of actions over a narrative, supported by overlayed tangible motivation for players to follow a certain path directed towards the goal of the game. This comprehensibly implies that there need not be a hard and fast rule to the process; any method that leads to the desired outcome is valid. But the lack of a definition of the process also works against the designers, especially when there’s a timeline to the project. Educators are not full-time game designers and ninety percent of their time at work is spent grading, documenting, assigning and organizing coursework.

The process described below could serve as a generic base to build the game upon and organically evolve with each acquired learning so that there’s not a lot of time wasted in devising and selecting the right process.

1. Secure the premises

the first step towards deducing the premises of a game is by defining the ‘world’ — the virtual space where the events of the game would occur.

Once the world is decided on the next step is answering the following questions — What is the purpose/objective for the world to exist? What are the critical resources that influence the purpose? What is the potential universal threat or crisis situation that could obstruct meeting the object? What is the possible scope to combat or defeat the threat? (The answer to these questions might change further down the process, but moving ahead with a clear picture helps in making quicker decisions.)

2. Determine Resources and Characters

While sketching out on the details for the game, it is important to find the right roles, ability, and intentions for them, since the players(students) would inescapably undergo some sort of passive influence while playing those roles in the game and imbibing the characteristics of these characters.

Tradeable and quantifiable commodities or entities that facilitate the progression of the gameplay make up the resources in the game. Managing those resources through the game carries a huge potential for lateral learning opportunities in the educational context. Leaving room for player interaction in relation to resources could spark many meaningful discussions. The image above provides an indicative idea of the relationship of resources with the storyline.

3. Outline the gameplay and balance the actions

In this part of the process, the relationship of the resources and characters with the environment(world) is determined. Actions could be seen as the ways in which the characters — by using the given resources and using their imaginary powers within the context of the world they operate in — help proceed the game towards the goal. And in the game, these actions could materialize by using mechanics. This would also be the best time to resolve if the game would involve a competitive(involving multiple parties competing against one another) or cooperative(everyone collectively playing against one social evil.

For educational use, it is advisable to not keep the game actions deterministic(following a pattern) to allow students to be more creative and bold with their moves instead of recognizing and memorizing any safe pattern in the game.

Post allocation of the mechanics for the actions, it is important to ensure they are balanced to avoid the gameplay from leaning towards or favoring any party. Balancing a game could be a very stressful and time-taking task. More the metrics involved in the game, more the mathematics it requires to balance. However, using a few hacks, the dependence of the gameplay on numbers could be brought down considerably. Using non-deterministic mechanics is one of them. Going with the instincts and relying on multiple playtesting could over time result in a more balanced game.

4. Diversity and Inclusion Checks

Screenshot from Dungeons and Dragons rulebook

This picture from the rulebook of dungeons and dragons marked a positive evolution in the gaming industry. Dungeons and Dragons, which for a long time followed a conservative approach and demanded players to choose a gender for their character while deciding on their preference among clerics, druids, paladins, monks, etc., added a clause to their rulebook supporting the non-conformists. This change allowed the LGBT perspective to be included in the D&D discourse, adding more value to their narrative.

A classroom is always a very diverse space. If the game does not make every student feel welcome to play it, it has lost the purpose already. While there are no hard and fast rules, answering a few questions for oneself could ensure the inclusiveness of a game concept:

• Does your game make the most hesitant participant speak up?
• Does your game provide a safe space for students to open-up?
• Does it encourage young learners to let their guards down?
• Does it allow learners to empathize with their fellow learners?

5. Openness Checks

The 5R Open Course Design Framework has five permissions enlisted that an OER resource should be licensed to provide — the ability to Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute content for educational purposes. Adopting the same principles in the documentation and dissemination of any educational game design concept would ascertain the quality and effectiveness of the content as the wide-spread educator diaspora would be able to add their perspectives to the design.

To ensure the game is easily accessible, discoverable, shareable and remixable it is important to be cognizant of open standards while selecting a platform to host the base design, deciding on a tool to create assets with a shareable format and suggesting methods of reproducing affordable physical artifacts if needed:

  • The base design of the games could be hosted on GitHub and contributors could participate in the evolution or modification of the game by contributing PRs. Example:
  • The instructions for the print and play files should be in adherence to accessibility standards
  • There should be a print and play version of the game that could be easily reproducible using the lowest quality of printing equipment available. The suggested shape, size, and colors for tokens for the print and play version should be basic enough to be found in any given household across the planet.
  • And last but most importantly, deciding on the right license for the hosted documentation of the game design(blueprints, maps, editable assets, images, rulebooks, etc.).

The popular idea of ‘good education’ being a binary outcome of a rigid and widely accepted methodology is losing its ground. More and more educators are taking the side of playful learning and letting go of the absolute control over the teaching process to allow their student’s creative evolution. This blog is a small step towards speedy percolation and adoption of play-based learning among educators who are already struggling with managing time and institution resources to provide their students with the best they could.

Posted by:Veethika Mishra

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